food and beverage underground

Grappa Italian Cafe is a Cramped but Good Experience

by Kevin Packer
(Park City, Utah)

Outside the historic Grappa building

Outside the historic Grappa building

The minute you walk into the cramped foyer of this 150+ year old victorian building you know you are not in for a private dinner but the ambiance is awe inspiring. Everything about this place is cramped and crammed together to fit as many tables as possible but that is okay because the food and service wows. The décor changes seasonally and this winter, although a little bit over the top, is a warm, winter, Christmassy delight.

My guest and I were shown to the second floor at a tiny table barely holding the bread plate and silverware. Everything on the table sparkled and the view out the window did as well. The lights in the trees at what must have been an amazing summer patio made us soon forget we were packed like sardines next to other couples along the window. There are 3 floors here with the second being the most popular with large windows and many tables over look the first floor dining room and fireplace. The other tables over look the lighted patio and Main Street.

We were surprised by a tiny “starter” of some kind of pumpkin bisque with a mussel on top. It was delicious and a talisman that everything from that point on was going to amuse our palettes. As you probably know, I love calamari so I did order it here. The fish was warm and tender although I thought the portion was kind of small for $11. It comes in a bowl and is shaped around the circle with a lemon half filled with a sauce similar but tastier than tarter and a marinara sauce that might be from a can.

I ordered the Caesar salad ($11) because I have to try it at every Italian restaurant to see if it's proper. At one of the restaurants I ran in my career the Colin Raye, the country singer, came in and as he was leaving he told me that he judges a restaurant by the salad because if they take the energy and time to get that right all that follows will be excellent as well so I've lived that ever since (he told me my restaurant's salad was excellent by the way: made my day!). This salad didn't disappoint me.

Neither did the Osso Buco $32 which my server promised had braised for “about 8 hours” and it just melted in my mouth. The savory sauce was a perfect compliment letting me taste the meat which is always nice. My partner had the Chicken Saltimbocca $28 which is described as “medallions of chicken, prosciutto, sage and fontina cheese”. What it doesn't say is it's a stuffed and rolled dish then cut into medallions. The flavors of each layer blend to a perfectly done, moist dish over farfalle pasta in a creamy wine sauce. Perfect. Chef Alex Malmborg didn't let me down in the year I've been absent from this dining mecca that has been around for over 17 years and is Bill White's first restaurant that started his Park City empire.

On previous visits I've enjoyed the soup sampler $12 and highly recommend it. It's a small bowl of each soup offered on the menu and a fun way to share.

The desserts are tiny and creative and come from pastry Chef Stephanie at Windy Ridge Bakery, also a Bill White enterprise. The cookie platter won't disappoint especially if you are sharing. The tiramisu is strangely absent this year and I'm disappointed because its ubiquitous with Italian dining but at least they had chocolate cake. Apparently they are changing the desserts often so I won't go into detail about them at this time.

Grappa (which is a highly volatile digestive drink made from the leftovers of winemakers) is very expensive but fits within the price range of Park City. I don't know why prices are so high here other than the fact that they get away with it. The food here costs the same as it does in Salt Lake City and the pay for staff members isn't any higher. Appetizers range from $11 to $14, Salads and soups $8 to $14 and entrees are $28 to $34 with specials running much higher. There's a very strange “service charge of $5” added to some entree items. If that ever shows up I would complain because it's a ridiculous way to trick you into ordering and then sneaking up the price!
Service is always good but I wouldn't call it 4 star. I suppose because they only serve dinner they need to turn the tables often to make the revenue and sometimes you can feel very rushed here. Especially in high season (ski and Sundance) you feel crowded and not welcome to linger.

Grappa is located at 151 Main Street. Phone is (435) 645-0636 and you must make reservations to assure a spot. Parking is horrific as there is very little street parking (pay) and the lots are always full. Park at the bottom of Main and walk or take the free trolley bus or take a cab or shuttle from your hotel if you are visiting.

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